Title: I Am Not Your Negro
Rating: 5 Stars
I’d read James Baldwin before, specifically Go Tell It On The Mountain. However, I did not know about him and had never heard him talk. This film was a revelation.
Ostensibly, this is a documentary of a 30 page treatment that he did of a planned work that was to discuss the assassination of three of his friends, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King. He never did finish that work, but that 30 page treatment, read by Samuel L Jackson, forms the basis of the film. Not surprisingly, within the film is the larger story of race in America, the tumult of the 1960’s, and how much farther we have to go.
There are several clips of Baldwin himself. There is one of him engaging in a debate / lecture at Cambridge. Another is a segment on the Dick Cavett show. In all cases, he is a poised and eloquent spokesman for the black movement. Although he feels his cause is hopeless, the fact that he’s alive means that he must be an optimist.
At one point, Cavett brings on a stuffy elderly white professor who pontificates on how artificial a distinction race is (“I have much more in common with a black scholar than a white non-scholar”) and Baldwin obliterates him.
Interspersed are scenes of violence from the 60’s. There are white people pulling black people off of lunch counters and beating them. There is white people screaming at young black students as they bravely enter previously segregated schools. There are scenes of while policemen poking and pushing with their nightsticks black protesters passively standing. There are scenes of riots from Watts. There are graphic scenes of lynchings.
These are horrible scenes and it makes me sick to contemplate that this once was America. Before I got too caught up thinking that this is some long ago past problem, there were also scenes from Ferguson, with policemen in full up military gear and equipment looking like nothing more than an invading army. There are a series of pictures of black children that have shot dead by police.
At the end, Baldwin makes a final plea that the only way that we can end racism is that if we (as in white Americans) choose to end it. The film concludes with a series of black men, women, and families, in modern day, in their everyday attire, quietly looking at the camera, a powerful statement on the idiocy and horror that is racism and serves as a silent plea to end it.